Tarragon is the queen of herbs, and one of thoses that the French refer to as ‘fines’. It is a great mixer on salads or to flavour dishes, but its magic alone is best brought out by flavouring chicken. Tarragon has a slight aniseed flavour that cuts fatty dishes like eggs and meat.
There is a certain amount of variation in a French chef’s definition of what herbs are fines, but my research has led me to believe that Madame would simply go into her potager to find the freshest green leaves to flavour her food. These are the leaves that do not require long cooking to soften them and do not overpower. Thyme and basil never seem to feature in the mix. Chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon all have a long life in the potager, and they all feature regularly in fines herbes mixes recommended by chefs.
There are two types of tarragon, Russian and French. Russian tarragon can be grown from seed, but beware, it is not of high culinary value and people report that the leaves taste dubious. French tarragon is much more difficult to grow, it does not set seed and should be propagated from cuttings. It is French tarragon that is the real McCoy.
I grow my tarragon in a pot filled with very a sharp, well-draining soil mixture. It won’t need a lot of nutrients as it is naturally most happy on top of a bare mountain in Alpes Maritimes in the south of France. I figure that a sunny spot on my rooftopvegplot is not so different. Tarragon needs loads of sun, and sulks in the winter. I take the pot indoors, giving it the sunniest and most sheltered spot in the greenhouse.
Of the other fines herbs, chervil and parsley grow well, overwintering in the greenhouse, but I find chives fare far better if left to fend for themselves in the ground outside. I let them die down in the winter and they come back of their own volition come spring.
If I pot up cuttings of French tarragon now and plant seeds of parsley and chervil in early autumn, I know that I can enjoying fines herbes on my salad or adorning an organic egg omelette all year round.